Contractors are putting the final touches on the renovated dining facility on the second floor of the Reamer Campus Center to be ready when students return at the end of the month.
“It was a push, but luckily we have great partners who got it done for us,” said Danny Duque, assistant director of Facilities.
A soft opening for the redesigned space is planned for Monday, Aug. 28, when first-year students are on campus for pre-orientation programs, said Tim Forte, director of Hospitality. An official grand opening featuring specials and other events is planned for mid-September.
Upper Class dining has been closed since February, when a broken sprinkler main flooded the northwest section of the building. The first floor auditorium also suffered extensive damage and renovations are ongoing.
Initial plans called for routine repairs to the damaged dining hall. But then it was decided to move forward with more ambitious improvements for a space that opened in 1987 and had begun to show its age.
Visitors will immediately notice a more open and expansive space. The new layout should dramatically improve the flow of customers passing through, reducing congestion and wait times.
Everything is new, from the entryway to the casework to the seating. Diner-style booths lining the walls complement traditional tables and high-tops, giving the space a communal feel.
Also, seating capacity was expanded from 240 to 325 which will allow first-year students to access the facility. For decades, first-year students typically ate at West Dining Hall seven days a week. That venue will remain open but shift to a Monday through Friday operation from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The renovated space will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (brunch) and 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (dinner).
The venue typically serves lunch and dinner to between 800 and 850 people daily, Forte said.
Once customers enter the venue, they can choose from among seven distinctive stations for their food, including new ones featuring hibachi cuisine and another offering allergen-free products.
While visitors will notice the renovations in the front of the house, the back of the house also received an overhaul. This includes new kitchen equipment and a redesigned footprint for Dining Services employees to create their specialties.
“We are hoping that better layouts, better equipment and more space will really improve the student experience,” Duque said.
Surveys show that dining facilities are a important factor when students and their parents make their decision on a college choice. They expect not only fresh and healthy options, but spaces that are welcoming and accommodating.
It has been months since most of the dining venues at Union were closed, leaving only the Rathskeller to offer limited service.
College officials are confident customers will find the new dining scene at Union worth the wait.
“We are excited to give everyone a better dining experience, and this project accomplishes that,” said Duque.